The ultimate 10 day Egypt itinerary for gay travellers (Nile river cruise included)

Sand swept with ancient intrigue and shaped by human civilisation’s most fantastic architectural feats, Egypt comes as no stranger to worldly travellers. Start out below the branches of the Nile Delta, following the river as its snakes ceaselessly south and legends of both Kings and Gods unfold. While Giza’s pyramids are an epic opener across the river from Cairo, it’s the tombs of Luxor that give the grandest of finales. Discover our favoured route through the nation on a 10 day Egypt itinerary, complete with a languid Nile cruise and wreck diving in Hurghada.

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El Manial, Old Cairo | Photo: Youhana Nassif

LGBT situation in Egypt

Getting the less-than-ideal facts out of the way, it must be said that Egypt remains a highly conservative country that seems to be getting worse, not better in terms of LGBT rights. Though homosexuality is technically not a crime in Egypt, prosecution under debauchery and public morals laws is a reality for some. Even as recently as 2017, there was a government crackdown on the gay Egypt community with a number of queer spaces being raided which resulted in 57 arrests. For this reason, the situation for LGBTQ+ travellers and locals remains tense and Egypt gay tourism development is stifled. While there is an underground scene for the gay community in gay Cairo and Alexandria, tapping into it comes with a risk. We’d recommend against using gay dating apps while in Egypt with extra caution being taken if approached by a local due to the possibility of set-ups and extortion. While you may see local men being affection with each other in the street, do not treat this as a sign of queer acceptance. To be safe, refrain from PDA and maintain discretion in public.

When booking accommodation, rest assured that midrange and top-end hotels will likely have no problem with accepting gay couples and those requesting a double bed, but the budget range hotels, particularly in more rural spots, may not be quite so used to accommodating gay guests. Lesbians meanwhile shouldn’t have any problems due to their sexuality, though they may be considered ‘single’ unaccompanied females in want of a male friend.

Photo: Spencer Davis

Photo: Tima Miroshnichenko

When to Visit Egypt

Avoiding the worst of the heat makes winter the best time to visit Egypt, from late November to late February when the Nile Valley area is temperate and Cairo leans a little towards chilly. The height of the season comes between December and January (and again during Easter) when Luxor and Aswan are at their busiest, but you’ll also find that Sinai resorts remain popular for the whole period. Other regions such as Hurghada on the Red Sea Coast see tides of visitors all year round, with March and April offering hard-to-beat highs of between 26-30°C.

Day 1 - 2: Cairo

Ready your sunglasses to avoid sand in your eyes as we speed off into the desert to explore the main sights of the capital, from imposing pyramids to spice-strewn markets. You’ll want to spend around two days in Cairo, getting the best attractions ticked off before escaping the noise and the chaos. The Great Pyramids of Giza will likely be top of your Cairo itinerary, a site best visited early to ensure an entry ticket. Don’t underestimate the size of the site here – spanning the three main pyramids, Sphinx and solar boat – so dress comfortably and flag down a camel or horse-led carriage if walking gets too much. Hiring a driver is also an option along with all-inclusive guided day tours.

Day two gives us another hit of ancient culture, this time spying the treasures on show in the Egyptian Museum, around an hour from Giza. Fifteen minutes down the road is Cairo’s main bazaar, Khal El-Khalili, the perfect spot to grab some street food before haggling aggressively over handmade souvenirs, artisan goods and antiques, within the souk. With additional time in Egypt, an optional day tour to Saqqara is a definite consideration, from where you’ll get to see the ‘step’ pyramids built earlier than those at Giza (around the 27th century BC) inside a smaller walled complex.

Cairo | Photo: Shady Shaker

Day 3: Aswan

A rather more breathable city sees us into day three, as we fly south to Aswan, ancient Egypt’s gateway city. From here we get an introduction to Egypt’s great temples, particularly Philae at Agilika Island, best known as the resting place of Osiris and accessible via water taxi from Marina Philae Temple. Though the temple has suffered some water damage and fading due to rising flood levels, its relocation by UNESCO ensures the future safety of its incredible hieroglyphic carvings. Bear in mind that you’ll be required to do some serious haggling with the ship captains to traverse the river, or else book a day tour with a guide who’ll barter the boat fee for you.

From Philae, another temple stop is that of Kalabsha, just south of Aswan High Dam and much quieter and smaller than the last. Barter a return trip across Lake Nassar, wandering the courtyard and intricately carved rooms of Kalabsha in relative peace before finishing up with a mosey through Beit El-Wali, a smaller temple from the time of Ramses II, beautifully preserved in colour after millennia buried beneath the sand. For a place to rest up, try an authentic guesthouse on the West Bank, allowing for a boat journey across the Nile with locals first thing in the morning.

Photo: Oziel Gómez

Photo: Mhmoud Nashed

Day 4: Abu Simbel

Also built during the rule of Ramses II around 1244BC are the dual temples at Abu Simbel, reachable by day trip from Aswan or on an overnight trip to beat the morning rush (the cruise ship tourists usually crowd the site around 5 am, while the day-trippers from Aswan come between 8-11 am, so 7 am is considered a good start time). Despite taking a little effort to get to, the temples here are decidedly worth it. The impressive power of King Ramses and his wife Nefertari is immediately evident, on sight of the four huge statues of Ramses guarding the entrance walkway. The Great Temple was built for Ramses himself while the smaller – yet no less impressive – temple was Nefertari’s, also flanked by six statues. Originally cut from the mountainside near Aswan, the temples were relocated to higher ground in 1968 to protect them from flooding by the new Aswan High Dam, a feat nearly as impressive as the temples themselves! If staying the night in Abu Simbel, head back to the temple site for sunset and the Light Show after dark.

Abu Simbel Temples | Photo: Aussieactive

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Ride in a rudimentary felucca or splurge on a stay-aboard luxury cruise ship; whatever you can afford, the traditional Nile cruise is a definite must on your gay Egypt travel itinerary

Day 5 - 7: Nile cruise

Ride in a rudimentary felucca or splurge on a stay-aboard luxury cruise ship; whatever you can afford, the traditional Nile cruise is a definite must on your gay Egypt travel itinerary. The more budget-friendly felucca relies heavily on wind speed to get you where you need to go, but, in the absence of a breeze, you may not get far. If you’re sailing as a means to get from Aswan to Luxor, forking out on the cruise ship will be worth it. Wind reliant or not, both options are great ways to view the river and its many scenic settlements, passing by the temples of Karnak and Edfu as well as the renowned Valley of the Kings near Luxor along the journey.

Those opting for the five-star cruise can enjoy the high life on their sundeck over 5 days and four nights, stopping for various day trip excursions and anchoring at night. The real travel time from Aswan to Luxor is around 1.5 days, allowing enough time for deck pool dunking, buffet indulgences and at least one evening disco with your fellow cruisers. Besides that, you can also use the time to learn more about the region’s ancient history from an Egyptologist guide.

Photo: Flying Carpet

Days 8 - 10: Luxor

Leaving Luxor until last ensures the earlier temples are not outshone by the marvels that await here. The city and its surrounds boast some of Egypt’s most culturally significant sites, including the Valley of the Kings’ 63 tombs, with the painted tombs of Tutankhamun, Ramses I, VI, IX, Thutmose and Amenhotep counted among them. With so many kings to keep track of, hiring an experienced guide is essential for understanding and to help you steer clear of the main tourist traps. One of the most popular things to do in Luxor meanwhile is to take to the air in a hot-air balloon over the valley. Though these rides don’t come cheap, the unbeatable views over the entire temple complex and free hotel pickups operating from both the East and West Banks, make this a real vacation highlight.

Once the capital of Upper Egypt marking both the ancient city of Thebes and God Amun, Luxor will never cease to amaze with its ‘open-air museum’ charting Ancient Egyptian history excavated from the sands of time. From the centred Luxor Temple, view the imposing statue of Ramses II (more impressive if you’ve not seen its twin in Paris’ Place de la Concord) before walking the Avenue of the Sphinxes towards Karnak Temple, another vast religious site which – when wholly dug out – will be second only to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. Besides the main temple offerings, El Souk market is a great place to stock up on last-minute souvenirs, unfolding along a pedestrian-only street in the centre of Luxor. For the local market, try following El Souk further down towards the east of the railway.

Photo: Stephanie Cook

Luxor | Photo: Tom Podmore

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Once the capital of Upper Egypt marking both the ancient city of Thebes and God Amun, Luxor will never cease to amaze with its ‘open-air museum’ charting Ancient Egyptian history excavated from the sands of time

Diving in Egypt

Clearer and more biodiverse than you might imagine, diving in Egypt has grown hugely in popularity since the 1950s when Greek and Italian workers began the trend with spearfishing expeditions near the traditional fishing village of Hurghada. Since then, the Red Sea and its fantastic coral reefs no longer remain a secret and international diving centres are now myriad all over Hurghada. In easy reach of both the capital and the Nile Valley, this northern resort town is perfectly placed to bring you many of the best diving sites in the Red Sea, particularly those around the Giftun Islands and the numerous shipwrecks dotting the local seabed. Diving Hurghada is suitable for both newbies and veterans, with a wide choice of shallow beginner dives alongside more adventurous wreck dives.

Take a look at the local Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS) website for a list of regulated dive centres, otherwise booking a course through the many top resorts that line the coast in El Gouna, Hurghada, Marsa Alam, Sharm El-Sheikh and Taba. Thanks to the moderate weather in the north, travellers can choose from package tours throughout the year.

Sharm el-Sheikh | Photo: Nariman Mesharrafa

Don’t know where to start?

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Photo: Sally Wilson

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